Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Roberto Clemente: A tribute to a proud Puerto Rican

"I want to be remembered as a ballplayer who gave all I had to give."
- Roberto Clemente

Today marks the 42nd anniversary of the death of Roberto Clemente.  On the evening of December 31st, 1972, Roberto lost his life in a plane crash while en route to Nicaragua in Central America.  Shortly after takeoff from San Juan International Airport, his DC-7 plane slammed into the Caribbean Sea, off the coast of Isla Verde, Puerto Rico.  All five people aboard the aircraft were killed, including the crew of three, Roberto Clemente and another passenger.

The wreckage of the plane was not found until the next day when divers located part of the fuselage.  A corpse removed from the site of the crash was identified as the pilot, Jerry Hill of Miami, Florida.  Although U.S. coast guard rescue and recovery teams searched the area for almost two weeks, Clemente's body was never found.

During the baseball offseason, Roberto had frequently involved himself in charity work in Puerto Rico and Latin American countries.  On the day of his death, the 38-year-old was delivering some much-needed aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua.  This is indicative of the kind of man he was and the high quality of his character.  Clemente was more than a professional baseball player. He was a true humanitarian.

If Roberto Clemente were alive today, he would be thrilled that his Pittsburgh Pirates won a berth in post-season play last season for the first time since 1992.   He would have cheered them on enthusiastically.  After all, Clemente's number was 21 and it's only fitting that the Pirate's finally reached the playoffs after a 21-year drought.

Roberto Clemente was born August 18, 1934 in the San Anton barrio of Carolina, Puerto Rico.  He was the youngest of eight children raised by Melchor Clemente and Luisa Walker.  Lusia, who was left a widow by her first husband, had already borne three children (two sons and a daughter) before marrying Roberto's father.  Her five children by Melchor included three sons - Matino, Andres and Osvaldo - and a daughter, Ana Iris, who died at the age of five after her dress accidentally caught fire.  Melchor was a foreman on a sugarcane plantation and Luisa was a laundress and a cook.

As a child, Clemente displayed great athletic prowess in track and field.  During his first year at Vizcarondo High School in Carolina, 14-year-old Roberto played softball with men on the Sello Rojo team.  At 16, he joined a team in Puerto Rico's highly competitive amateur league called Ferdinand Juncos. Although his mother hoped that he would pursue a career in engineering, young Roberto had other ideas. His passion was baseball and his education would have to be put on hold.  Before he had even completed high school, he was offered a professional baseball contract.with the Santurce Cangrejeros (“Crabbers”), a winter league franchise in the Puerto Rico Baseball League.  During his first season with the Crabbers, the teenager spent a great deal of time sitting on the bench.  By his second season, however, he had become a starting player and the team’s leadoff hitter with a batting average of .288.

Roberto was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers as an amateur free agent in 1952.  He played for the Dodgers' Triple-A affiliate, the Montreal Royals, for one season, as did Jackie Robinson before him.   Clemente spent the 1954 season in Canada with the Royals of the International League.  His season in Montreal was rather disappointing because he was not given much playing time and was used as a bench player.  It seems the Dodgers tried to conceal his talent from other teams.

In an article entitled "Roberto Clemente's Entry into Organized Baseball: Was He Hidden in Montreal?" (2006 The National Pastime, published by the Society for American Baseball Research), author Stew Thornley states that "What has been written about Clemente in Montreal contains an assertion that the Dodgers and Royals tried to hide him - that is, play him very little so that other teams wouldn’t notice him. The claim was expressed by Clemente at least as early as 1962 in an article by Howard Cohn in Sport magazine.  'Clemente, on the other hand, felt - and still does - that the Royals kept him out of the regular lineup so big-league teams would think him a weak prospect and ignore him in the post-season draft for which he’d be available as a bonus player if he weren’t elevated to the Brooklyn roster,' wrote Cohn."

Roberto Clemente playing for Montreal Royals

The Dodgers' tactics didn't work.  Roberto was drafted first overall by the Pittsburgh Pirates of the National League in the 1954 MLB  rookie draft.  He then signed with the Pirates for a reported salary of $5,000 as well as a bonus of $10,000, later admitting that at the time, he didn't even know where Pittsburgh was located.   The young slugger, however, soon became acquainted with the city, and he spent his entire major league career there.  Clemente played 18 seasons for the Pirates from 1955 to 1972.  The immensely gifted right fielder is arguably the greatest Hispanic player of all time.

Roberto played his first major league game on April 17, 1955 at the age of 20, in the opening game of a double header against the Brooklyn Dodgers.  He recorded a single against the Dodgers during the first game, hitting 1-for-4 at the plate and scoring a run.  During the second game, he hit 2-for-4 with a double and a run.  The Pirates lost both games by scores of 10-3 and 3-2, respectively.

Roberto's rookie season was difficult in many ways as he tried to adjust to life in a new city and communicate in a non-Spanish speaking environment.  He faced discrimination due to his mixed African ancestry and his difficulty with the English language.  During mid-season, Clemente was involved in car accident caused by a drunk driver and was forced to miss some games due to a lower back injury. Nevertheless, he finished his rookie season with a .255 batting average in 124 games.

A proud Latino, Roberto clearly disliked being called "Bobby" or "Bob."  In his book Roberto Clemente: The Great One, author Bruce Markusen describes the Puerto Rican's attitude:

Clemente did not appreciate another practice of the media.  Some writers and broadcasters insisted on calling him "Bob" or "Bobby."  Several teammates used similar names in addressing or referring to him.  Even most of his baseball cards listed him as  trend that continued as late as 1969.  Clemente did not encourage such Americanization of his given name, a disrespectful practice that occurred mostly during the late fifties and early sixties.  He said, 'My name is Roberto Clemente,' not 'Bobby Clemente' or 'Robby Clemente.'  My name is 'Roberto Clemente." 

According  to Markusen, if Clemente's teammates insisted on assigning him a nickname, "Roberto preferred that they call him "Momen," an untranslatable Spanish moniker that he had acquired as a youngster."

1959 Topps baseball card

After the 1958 season, Clemente joined the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve.  For the next six months, he engaged in active duty at Parris Island, South Carolina and Camp LeJeune, North Carolina.  He served in the Marines until 1964 and was admitted into the Marine Corps Sports Hall of Fame in 2003.

On November 14, 1964, Roberto married Vera Cristina Zabala at San Fernando Church in Carolina. The couple had three children: Roberto Jr., Luis Roberto and Enrique Roberto.  Here's how Vera remembered her first date with the baseball legend.

The morning [he asked me on our first date], I was at my desk, and suddenly, he took me by surprise, and then I accepted the invitation. When I hanged up… I said, oh my god, just what have I done. I mean, I just had said yes. And then I felt worried. Then, at lunch day, I don’t know how people found out at the bank… they did not let me work that morning. At noon, they all just walked outside, everyone, auditors and all the executives. To try to take a look at him… I walked outside, on time. And we went for lunch.

Clemente's major league statistics are quite impressive.  His career batting average was 3.17.  He recorded 3,000 hits, 240 home runs and 1,305 RBIs.  He also played on two World Series championship teams - the 1960 Pirates and the 1971 Pirates.  In 1960, he was the first Hispanic to win a World Series as a starting player. In 1971, he was selected as the Most Valuable Player in the October Classic, becoming the first Latino to earn the honour.  He batted a remarkable .414 in that World Series (between the Pirates and the Baltimore Orioles) and he hit safely in all 7 games.

Clemente was a great defensive outfielder with a strong, accurate throwing arm. How good was his throwing arm?  As former major league catcher and sportscaster, Tim McCarver, put it, some right fielders have rifles for arms but Clemente had a howitzer.

Roberto Clemente's last major league appearance took place on October 3, 1972 at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio.  His Pittsburgh Pirates were defeated by the Cincinnati Reds in the National League Championship Series and eliminated from World Series competition.  In late November, Clemente managed the Puerto Rican team that competed in the Amateur World Series that was held in Managua, Nicaragua's largest city and its capital.  The Puerto Ricans finished fifth out of the 16 teams in the tournament.

On December 23, 1972, Managua was devastated by a massive earthquake. Roberto immediately began organizing emergency relief flights to the ravaged capital.  Unfortunately, corrupt officials of the Nicaraguan government interfered with the first three flights and the aid was never delivered to the victims of the disaster.  Roberto, however, was so determined that the supplies would actually reach the earthquake survivors that he decided to accompany a fourth flight himself.

Why did the baseball star's plane crash?  A U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) investigation later determined that the four-engine Douglas DC-7 Clemente charted for his New Year's Eve mission of mercy had a record of mechanical problems.  It was also greatly overloaded and lacked a qualified co-pilot and flight engineer.

A month after Roberto's death, journalist William Grimsley visited the "House on the Hill," the Clemente family's Spanish-style home in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  Grimsley interviewed Roberto's widow, Vera, and she showed him her late husband's trophy room in the basement.  It contained hundreds of silver and bronze awards and walls full of plaques. Vera explained that "Roberto was proud of his trophies - not so much because of himself but because of the recognition he thought it brought Puerto Rico and Latin players."

In 1973, Robert Clemente was inducted posthumously into the National Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, New York.  He was selected by 92.per cent of the voters on the first ballot and became the first Latin American to be enshrined in the Hall   He was only the second Hall of Fame member (the first being the great Lou Gehrig in 1939) for whom the mandatory five-year waiting period was disregarded. That same year, Major League Baseball established an award in Roberto's honour.  The award is given to the player who best exemplifies Clemente's humanitarianism and sportsmanship ideals.

According to an Encyclopedia Britannica, Latin Americans have played in the major leagues since the 19th century.  At the beginning of the 2000 season, of some 1,200 players in the major leagues, 169 (about 15 per cent) were from Latin America. There were also many players U.S.-born baseball professionals of Latin descent.  Now, in the 21st century, Hispanic players are more numerous and more dominant than ever before.  At the beginning of the 2013 Major League Baseball Season, MLB officials informed Fox News Latino that 27.1 per cent of its players are of  “Hispanic background."  It was Clemente who blazed the trail for Latin players.  He was the first Latino baseball superstar.

Roberto Clemente's wish has come true.  He is remembered as a great ballplayer and also as a man who gave all he had to give.  In the words of Puerto Rican broadcaster Luis R. Mayoral, here is what Clemente's legacy means to his compatriots.

In Puerto Rico, we remember Roberto Clemente as a national hero, an outstanding humanitarian, an inspiration for the needy as well as a man who was able to solve the human, social and political challenges that life presented to him.  He gave Puerto Rico a sense of identity, new concepts as to hope and respect, and above all, his biggest legacy is that he is still an inspiration 33 years after his death.


* When Roberto Clemente joined the Pitttsburgh Pirates at the beginning of the 1955 season, his original uniform number was 13.  At the time, Pittsburgh's centre fielder, Earl Smith, wore number 21.  When Smith left the team in April 1955, Clemente claimed that number and wore it for the rest of his baseball career.  He selected 21 because it is the number of letters in his full name - Roberto Clemente Walker.  On April 6, 1973, Clemente's number 21 was retired by the Pittsburgh Pirates.

* Clemente received 12 consecutive Gold Glove Awards for his excellent play in right field.  He shares the record of 12 Gold Gloves with the great Willie Mays.

* On July 25, 1956, Roberto Clemente became the first (and only player to date) to hit a walk-off inside-the-park grand slam.  He accomplished this feat in a 9-8 Pittsburgh Pirate victory over the Chicago Cubs at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh.

* Clemente was named to the National League All-star team 12 times (1960-1972) and made 14 All-star appearances.  In 1960, 1961 and 1962, he participated in both of the two All-star games that were played during those years.

* Roberto was the National League's batting champion four times (1961, 1964, 1965 and 1967).  In 1966, he was chosen the NL's MVP, the first Latino to win that award.

* Clemente had exactly 3,000 hits in his major league career. On September 30, 1972, he  recorded his 3,000th and final major league hit at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh.against the New York Mets.  It was a double off pitcher Jon Matlack.

* Clemente had a reputation for being  a hypochondriac. When he was hurt, he let it be known, an uncommon practice during his playing days.  Yet, despite a severe back injury in 1954, an arm injury in 1959, and an attack of malaria in 1965,  Roberto played 140 or more games in eight consecutive seasons from 1960 to 1967.

* In a 2002 interview for the ESPN documentary series SportsCentury,Vera Clemente revealed that her husband had told her several times time that he thought he would die at a young age. Just before Roberto's death, some members of his family had a premonitions about him. According to writer William Grimsley, on the night Roberto Clemente died, seven-year-old Roberto Jr. told his maternal grandfather that "Daddy is leaving for Nicaragua, but he is not coming back." Clemente's own father, Melchor, had a similar eerie premonition. He claimed he had a dream that he saw the plane crash and his son go down with it."

- Joanne

2014: The Year Ahead

The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes. Unless a particular man made New Year resolutions, he would make no resolutions. Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective.” 

- Gilbert Keith Chesterton (1874-1936), English writer

I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You're doing things you've never done before, and more importantly, you're Doing Something.

So that's my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody's ever made before. Don't freeze, don't stop, don't worry that it isn't good enough, or it isn't perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you're scared of doing, Do it.

- Neil Gaiman, English author, born 1960




February 9, 1964 marks the 50th anniversary of The Beatles' first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. The Fab Four arrived in New York City on February 7 amid great fanfare and much anticipation from their fans.  They performed on the Sullivan show for three consecutive Sundays in February of 1964.  CBS has announced that it will broadcast a two-hour tribute to The Beatles on February 9, 2014.  This TV special will feature footage of the Beatles' legendary performance 50 years to the air it originally aired.


2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the start of The First World War (1914-1918).  The hostilities began on July 28, 1914 when Austria-Hungary officially declared war on Serbia.  This declaration of war occurred exactly one month after Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife, Sophie, were assassinated in Sarajevo, the capital of the Austro-Hungarian province of Bosnia-Herzegovina.  Their assassin, Gavrilo Princip, was a young Bosnian-Serb who belonged to a group called the Black Hand, a Slavic nationalist movement advocating a union of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria


On June 6, 1944, the Allied Forces landed on the beaches along the coast of Normandy, France in World War II.  It was the greatest seaborne invasion in history.  The code name for the Battle of Normandy was Operation Overlord.  The Allied land forces that saw combat on D-Day came from the United Kingdom, Canada and the United States.  Free French forces and Polish forces also participated after the assault.  In addition, there were minor contingents from Belgium, Greece, the Netherlands and Norway.

On June 6, 1944, a date known ever since as D-Day, a mighty armada crossed a narrow strip of sea from England to Normandy, France, and cracked the Nazi grip on western Europe.

- Encylopedia Britannica

Note: D-Day is a military term for the day a combat attack is set to occur.


2014 is the Year of the Horse.  The Chinese year 4712 begins on January 31, 2014.


Ontario Municipal Elections will be held on Monday, October 27, 2014.  Voters in the province of Ontario will elect mayors, councillors, school board trustees and all other elected officials in all of the province's municipalities.

New Brunswick Election:  The province of New Brunswick will go to the polls for provincial elections on Monday, September 22, 2014.

The Calgary Stampede will be held from July 4 to July 13, 2014 in Calgary, Alberta.

150th Anniversary of the Charlottetown Conference

Delegates at the Charlottetown Conference of 1864

From September 1-9, 1864, representatives of the colonies of British North America met in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island to discuss Canadian Confederation.  Most of the conference took place at Province House, which now houses the legislative assembly of the province of Prince Edward Island.


60 years ago, on September 9, 1954, Toronto-born Marilyn Bell, became the first person to swim across Lake Ontario.  She swam the chilly waters from Youngstown, New York to Toronto, Ontario (a distance of about 51.5 km or 32 miles)  in 20 hours and 58 minutes. The 16-year-old became Canada's sweetheart.

In 1955, Marilyn swam the  English Channel, becoming the youngest person to do so.  The next year, she swam the Strait of Juan de Fuca off the Pacific Coast, from Port Angeles, Washington to Victoria British Columbia.

Marilyn Bell retired from marathon swimming in 1956.  On September 28, 1957, she  married American Joe Di Lascio, a lifeguard from Atlantic City, New Jersey..  The couple settled in New Jersey and raised four children.  Joe passed away in September of 2007.  Marilyn is now 76 years old and resides in Southampton, New Jersey.


The 102nd Grey Cup, the championship of Canadian professional football, will take place on November 30, 2014 at B.C. Place in Vancouver, British Columbia.

50th anniversary of famed Canadian-bred Northern Dancer's victory in the Kentucky Derby on May 2, 1964.  In June of that same year, he won the most celebrated thoroughbred horse race in Canada, the Queen's Plate.  To date, Northern Dancer is the only horse to have won both races.  He also won the second jewel of the American Triple Crown of thoroughbred racing, the Preakness Stakes and finished third in the third jewel, the Belmont Stakes.  Northern Dancer became the most successful sire of the 20th century and died on November 16, 1990.

Northern Dancer

United States

Congressional elections will be held in the United States on Tuesday, November 4, 2014.  All 435 seats in the House of Representatives, as well as 33 of the 100 seats in the U.S. Senates, will be contested in these midterm elections.  There will also be elections involving 38 state and territorial governorships, 46 state legislatures (excluding Louisiana, Mississippi, New Jersey and Virginia), and four territorial legislatures along with many state and local races.

50th Anniversary of The Civil Rights Act of 1964:  On July 2, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law a landmark piece of civil rights legislation in the United States that banned major forms of discrimination against racial, ethnic, national and religious minorities, and women.  It forbid unequal application of voter registration requirements and racial segregation in schools, at the workplace and by public facilities.


The National Hockey League Winter Classic will be played outdoors on January 1, 2014 at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Michigan.  The game will feature the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Super Bowl XLVIII will take place on February 2, 2014 at the MetLife Sports Complex in East 
Rutherford, New Jersey.

The 140th running of The Kentucky Derby will be held at venerable Churchill Downs in Louisville, Kentucky on Saturday, May 3, 2014..  The Run for the Roses always takes place on the first Saturday in May and it is the first jewel in the Anerican Triple Crown of Horse Racing.

The Kenucky Derby and the famous twin spires of Churchill Downs

                                                                                      Courtesy: Kentuckytourism.com

The 85th Major League Baseball All-Star Game will be hosted by the Minnesota Twins.  It will be played at Target Field on Tuesday, July 15, 2014.  It will be the first Midsummer Classic to take place in the city of Minneapolis since 1985 and the first ever All-Star Game at Target Field.

The 2014 Masters Tournament of golf will take place from Wednesday April 9, 2014 to Sunday, April 13, 2014 at the Augusta National Golf Club in Augusta, Georgia.


In 1964, there were two highly anticipated boxing matches between Muhammad Ali, then known as Cassius Clay and Sonny Liston.  The first bout took place on February 25, 1964 in Miami Beach Florida.  Liston was WBC heavyweight champion, having defeated Floyd Patterson.  Clay was declared the winner of the first bout by a technical knockout.

The second bout occurred in Lewiston, Maine on May 25, 1965 before less than 2,500 fans at the Central Maine Youth Center.  During the first round, Liston fell to the canvas and Ali refused to retreat to a neutral corner.  Few of the people in attendance saw Ali deliver the knockout punch.  Nevertheless, referee Jersey Joe Walcott stopped the fight and awarded Ali a first-round knockout victory.

The United Kingdom

The Scottish Independence Referendum: On Thursday, September 18, 2014, the Scottish Government will hold a referendum on the issue of independence from the United Kingdom.  The question put forth in the referendum will be "Should Scotland be an independent country?"


The Wimbleton Tennis Championships - To take place in London, England at the All England Lawn Tennis Cllub from June 23 until July 6, 2014.

The 2014 British Open Championship golf tournament will be hosted by the Royal Liverpool Golf Club from July 13 to July 20, 2014.  The Royal Liverpool is located at the seaside town of Hoylake, on Merseyside, England.


A general election for the 16th Lok Sab (House of the People), the lower house of the Parliament of India, will take place on May 31, 2014.


On September 14, 2014, general election will be held in Sweden to the Riksdag, the national legislative assembly and to county councils and municipal assemblies.  The Riksdag is the supreme decision-making body in the Kingdom of Sweden.

South Africa

There will be a general election in South Africa, to be held sometime between April and July 2014 for a new National Assembly and new provincial legislatures in each province.  


Federal elections are scheduled to take place in Belgium on May 25, 2014.  All members of the Chamber of Representatives will be elected.


General elections will take place in Brazil on October 5, 2014.  The President, the National Congress, state governors and state legislatures will be elected.  In the event that no candidate receives no more than 50 per cent of the vote in the presidential and gubernatorial elections, there will be a run-off on October 26, 2014.

International Sporting Events

The 2014 Winter Olympics will take place in Sochi, Russia from February 7 to February 23.

Brazil will host the 2014 FIFA World Cup.  This great soccer (football) event will be held from June 12 until July 13, 2014.

The 2014 Commonwealth Games will be held in Glasgow, Scotland, U.K. from July 23 to August 3, 2014.

Entertainment Awards

The 86th Academy Awards will be held on Sunday, March 2, 2014 at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles, California.  This year, the Oscars ceremony will occur a week later than usual due to the Winter Olympics.

The 56th Grammy Awards are scheduled for January 26, 2014 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.

The 2014 EE British Academy Film Awards (BAFTA) on Sunday, February 16, 2014 at London's Royal Opera House.

The 2014 Tony Awards for Broadway achievement will take on Sunday, June 8, 2014 at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.

Famous People Born in 1964


Michelle Obama, U.S. First Lady, born January 17, 1964 in Chicago, Illinois, USA

Sandra Bullock, American actress, born July 26, 1964 in Arlington, Virginia, USA

Nicolas Cage, American actor, born January 7, 1964 in Long Beach, California, USA

Courtney Cox, American actress, born June 15, 1964 in Birmingham, Alabama, USA

Lenny Kravitz, American singer and songwriter, born May 26, 1964 in New York City, USA

Keanu Reeves, Canadian actor, born September 2, 1964 in Beirut, Lebanon

Rob Lowe, American actor, born March 17, 1964 in Charlottesville, Virginia, USA

Melissa Gilbert, American actress, born May 8, 1964 in Los Angeles, California, USA

Prince Edward of Britain, Earl of Wessex, born March 10, 1964 in London, England, UK

Russell Crowe, Australian-raised New Zealand actor, born April 7, 1964 in Wellington, New Zealand

Sarah Palin, American politician and commentator, born February 11, 1964 in Sandpoint, Idaho, USA

Diana Krall, Canadian jazz musician, born November 16, 1964 in Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada

Matt Dillon, American actor and film director, born February 18, 1964 in New Rochelle, New York, USA

Trisha Yearwood, American country musician, born on September 19, 1964 in Monticello, Georgia, USA

Boris Johnson, British-American Mayor of London, England, born June 19, 1964 in New York City, USA

Barry Bonds, American ex-professional baseball player, born July 24, 1964 in Riverside, California, USA

Juliette Binoche, French actress, born March 9, 1964 in Paris France


Paul Bernardo, convicted Canadian serial killer, born August 27, 1964 in Scarborough, Ontario, Canada,

- Joanne